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Fail Better

Failure has been on my mind a lot lately. Not just the fear of it, but the actual, raw experience of failing. Both the tiny failures that I seem to make every single day and the large ones that (in the moment) make it seem as though life as you know it is now over.

It’s funny how as you grow older your definition of failure (and by association, success) changes. When I was younger, failure was so black and white. An “A” on a test, placing at a cross country meet, acceptance into a good school – these were the successes I measured my life by.

These days, it’s not so concrete. I try to measure success in life by the bigger picture. Do my best to not get caught up in the small failures of everyday. To not let myself be defined by inconsequential things like whether I can run a certain weekly mileage, make X amount of money, or boast impressive race PRs. To really live the way that I vowed I would in 2013.

But change takes time and sometimes, no matter how hard you try to not get bogged down, the crap piles up on you. Your list of recent failures (big and small) seems a mile long and all-encompassing. And you start to think that failure is the only thing that defines you.

baking fail_cinnamon raisin breadBaking fail: “homemade cinnamon raisin bread” aka “a hard dense rock of semi-sweet bread-like substance”

Yesterday was one of those days. A day when I sat, immobilized by my failures — the failure to reach my goals, failure to help my family in the way that I want, failure to contribute to society in any meaningful sort of way, and (ironically) my overall failure to stop focusing on the negative.

In other words, I was having a major pity party.

I will pause for a moment to mention that the logical side of me realized how silly I was being. I know that I am not defined by my failures and that, in the scheme of life, these recent failures over which I’m currently stressing are not that major. They are not life-threatening, or ending, or crippling. They are just LIFE. But logic doesn’t always prevail, and instead of being able to rationalize your way out of a pity party, some days you just really need a win.

So as I sat there feeling sorry for myself and angry at a world that is anything but fair, I finally convinced myself to lace up my running shoes. Not expecting much out of the run, but determined to at least take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and abundant sunshine.

snowy trail

The run started off just exactly the way you’d expect on a day when nothing seems to be going right. I stepped in dog poop, was unable to get it all out of the crevices of my running shoes, and ended up with poo on my leg because of my awful tendency to kick myself with my heels while I’m running. Disgusting, but oh so fitting.

Determined to not let this stinky setback derail an otherwise perfect day for running, I kept plugging away. I spent the remainder of that run thinking about failures. And two funny things happened. First – I found my thoughts turning away from the negative and instead toward all those past “failures” that were actually success in disguise.  All those many failures that seemed bad at first, but resulted in some really amazing life changes.

  • Like my failure to succeed at any other sport as a child (I had my heart set on being a gymnast but was completely inflexible; a dancer but too uncoordinated; a soccer player but was afraid of the ball), which eventually led to the discovery of and love affair with running. And all the many successes that have come since.
  • Or the failure to get into UNC’s public health program (the school I wanted most and, as it happened, the only one that did not accept me) that led me to Brown and ultimately to Evan (as did the failures of many past relationships).
  • The failure to keep myself injury free last year which led to a rekindled passion for running — as well as a changed stride and new choice of footwear that has totally changed my running life (and made running feel better than ever).
  • And the failure to find a way to sustain my job in Rhode Island last June which led to a move up to Vermont and a new way of life in the absolute best state in the US (based on my totally non-biased expert opinion after 7 full months of living here).

All failures that looked suspiciously a whole lot like success with the perspective of a little time.

Second – the more I thought about failure, the faster I started running. I don’t know if it was actually the warm temperatures, the fact that I took several days off from running in order to ski all weekend, or if there truly was something in my sub-conscious mind that converted a rumination on failure into the absolute best run I’ve had in months. But whatever the reason, I felt stronger and happier out there running than I have in a really long time. And my splits showed it:

7 miles in 53:22 (8:19, 8:01, 8:12, 7:36, 7:21, 7:15, 6:35!).

Ironically — I finally got the win I so desperately craved after I realized that I no longer needed it.

winter sunset

Sometimes failure sucks. And sometimes it seems overwhelming. But rarely is failure for nothing. Many successful people fail over and over again before that finally leads to their success. Usually failure means that you at least tried. And after all — wouldn’t you rather live a life where you tried and failed than one in which you tried at nothing at all?

I know that this year, like years past and all the years to come, will be full of failure. And I need to accept that it’s okay.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.  ~Samuel Beckett  {emphasis mine}

And so my goal for this year is not to avoid failure. It is not to be successful in everything I do, or only attempt those things in which my success is guaranteed.

Instead, my goal is to try again, to fail again, and ultimately to fail better.

Failure leads to strength. It leads to open windows, overlooked opportunities, growth of character, and perseverance.

In other words, it leads to sweet success.

A life without failure is boring. So don’t be afraid to fail. Just strive to fail better.


32 Responses to Fail Better

  1. I love this post. Yes, so many things that seem to be the end of the world turn out to be for the best (or at least another better opportunity comes from them). I think the worst is being complacent and not doing anything in which you might fail which coincidentally is what I have been doing in my work life and maybe some personal stuff too if I really admit it. Blah! Glad you had the run you were looking for!!
    Celia´s last post ..mileage and first weeks of boston training

  2. This is brilliant. Love this.
    alyssa´s last post ..A New Year Update: Trail Running

  3. Yes! This is my favorite J.K. Rowling quote, which basically says the same thing:
    “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
    Gabby @ Marathons and Macarons´s last post ..Running Away: Paris

  4. I appreciate this so very much and I admire it, too. This is an incredibly brave goal and one that, I suspect, will reap you many rewards. I will try to take a cue from this post in my own life. Thank you.

  5. Amazing post and insights! Thank you for this.
    Kristen L´s last post ..Hip Strengthening?

  6. Ah, this is a great post. THanks for sharing. I’m often afraid of failure, but slowly learning that it makes me stronger and better in the end. A snowy run sounds perfect right about now.
    Lauren @ Sassy Molassy´s last post ..Chicken & Veggie Curry

  7. I love this post – and the positive spin on failure. At the end of last year I reflected on how I am in such an amazing place right now due to failure – laid off from jobs turned into being recruited for one I am in LOVE with. Injury in running and weeks off turned me to strength and cross training and a 15 minute half PR 4 months later…it’s hard to take it in stride but I always believe there is a reason for the hard parts.

    And btw – I thought I was the ONLY person who kicked myself with my heels running. Glad to know there is someone else out there!
    Gianna´s last post ..Long Weekend + NYCRuns Central Park 10 Miler Recap

    • This is amazing! I’m so happy you commented. It really is crazy sometimes how the worst experiences end up leading to the best life changes. Congrats on all the failures turned success you’ve had during this past year!!

  8. Thanks for this post! It speaks to exactly how I have been feeling lately. I’ve been feeling like a failure in my training plan and a bit of my persona life, and even though the rational side of me knows I’m being ridiculous, just like you said, it’s hard to get out of that mindset. Glad your run turned things around for you, hopefully mine can do some of the same!
    Logan @ Mountains and Miles´s last post ..R&R Training Recap Week 9 – A Week of 2 PRs

  9. Ah, so true! I’m a high school teacher and we try to teach this to the students – that it’s ok, in fact, it’s good to have failures! So many get caught up in their fear of failing that they are reluctant to even have a go. Remember that many of our very useful inventions came out of failures and mistakes – penicillin, post-it-notes, the pacemaker – failures in these instances led to the discovery of wonderful new (and some life-saving!) things! The top companies (such as Google) also give time for their employees to just “tinker” and have a go at creating/inventing things – many of these end up as failures, but it’s through the failures that new ideas are sparked, better ways of doing things are discovered and the “allowance” of failure makes people more creative.

    PS – those photos are gorgeous!

  10. LOVE this post! What a great reminder that the best things happen when we think we’ve failed.
    Ari @ Ari’s Menu´s last post ..Black & White Cookies {vegan}

  11. I love your perspective on failure! It can truly lead to great things and I have to remind myself of that too.

    Glad to hear that I’m not the only one who’s mind can wander so much while running!
    Mary´s last post ..2013 Running Goals

  12. Wow, how do you keep pace like that on the snow!?!

    I’m stuck doing crawling, snail-pace 9:00-9:50s and still nearly slipping/falling over every other stride :(

    • Oh! I don’t – the pictures are actually from my walk the day before. Sorry! I should have put in a note…I didn’t mean to be misleading. If I had been on snow, my pace would have been much closer to 10:00/mile than 7:00!

      • That’s okay! I didn’t think you were being misleading at all – I’m just always on the lookout for some secret way to maintain pace on the snow 😉 Since I live in the Northern UK, which has been buried under the stuff for ages, I was just wondering whether I was being uber-slow and useless, or whether the snow slows everyone else down too.

  13. Awesome, run! You needed that:)! So funny how a great run can make you feel better or how souls searching can make for a better run! I think we all focus on our failures but they are truly what makes us stronger and builds our character. I can’t wait to get back out there and obtain a moment of the running clarity myself.

  14. I love this post…I am always SO scared of failing. I end up either convincing myself that I don’t really care that much about it anyway or doing something to sabotage my attempts at it – only b/c I am too scared to not succeed.
    Fail better. Love it.
    And crazy awesome run =)
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama´s last post ..Back to the Trails…

  15. I love this post so much! I often hold off on doing something new because I’m worried I’ll be horrible at it, or just plain fail entirely. But failure isn’t always bad, we often learn how to do something the right way, or in a better way. I hope I can remember to fail better for a while.

    Also, I have a pretty good (and EASY) recipe for cinnamon raisin bread if you’d like it. :)
    Steph @ Steph Runs On´s last post ..Finding My Mojo

  16. This is an awesome post. And something that really hits home with me right now…with running AND life. You have a way with words and putting things in perspective like no one else.
    Corey´s last post ..FINALLY

  17. Thank you! I really needed this post.
    Emily´s last post ..Two books to read: The Power of One and Mornings in Jenin

  18. What a great post….especially with the Beckett quote. It further cements the fact that many things in life are a matter of perspectives. I really needed this today. Thanks for the positive reminder of the proper way of dealing with “failure.” :)

  19. thank you for this-something that is hitting close to home in my running and personal life right now. if only i could share with the bf without looking like a nag :)

  20. I really enjoyed this post. It is so easy to get wound up on the failures..but more often that not said failures bring about huge and GOOD changes.

    We all fail. But getting up and tackling it again is what makes us stronger.

    As a perfectionist, type A, OCD person–failing is hard for me to swallow. But I have to keep in mind the good at the end of it. And even if there’s not good, a lesson is learned.

  21. Thanks for this post. I think it was something I really needed to read. I struggle with the idea of failure as well, I’m terrified of it. After reading this, I realise I shouldn’t be because ultimately failure is progress.

    Thanks again :)

  22. They say if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough! I don’t know who “they” are…but it’s true. And sometimes failures/bad things happen and lead us to something even better than we originally thought.
    Susan – Nurse on the Run´s last post ..post-night shift workout

  23. […] Health on the Run: Lauren is one of my favorite people in this world. She makes me want to be a better person, a better writer and a better runner. Every time she posts, I can’t even bring myself to comment because she already wrote everything so poignantly. What more is there to say? Nothing. (Here’s a recent example of a post I really loved.) […]

  24. I am new to your blog, and I LOVE this post! I’ve been mulling over it all night tonight at work– really good perspective!
    Curly Pink Runner´s last post ..Weekend Long Run.

  25. I love this. I tend to dwell on my failures a lot too…but it’s true that in hindsight most of them have been for the better anyway!
    Cate´s last post ..Kale, Pinto and Mushroom Tacos with Guajillo Salsa

  26. Bpy am I learning that lesson right now, but your perspective is spot on. Thanks for the positive reminder. :)

  27. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH! It’s a good reminder that sometimes we don’t know our life path and sometimes things that seem like a failure is actually exactly the way it was supposed to happen. Thanks. – Lea
    Lea´s last post .."I’m Afraid to Post this Blog" Blogger Challenge

  28. […] just have to learn from ALL of them. And then try again.  (LOVING this quote – thanks to Lauren for talking about […]

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